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Harbin impressions


studychinese

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MarsBlackman

I just left Harbin two weeks ago for Shenyang but hopefully I can provide some insight after spending the better half of the last two years in Harbin.

 

If the taxi drivers are bothering you after two days then I recommend you either buy a bicycle or moped, or just accept that's the way it is. The taxi drivers in Harbin can be difficult, especially at night coming from either the airport or train station. They'll drive partway down the road, pull over, and throw two cars worth of passengers in the same cab so one can get double the fair and the other can get back in line and do it again. As soon as you get in, just spit out as much Chinese as you can to show you're not a tourist and can't be cheated. You'll get some good bartering skills after being in Harbin haha. But in all honestly, getting a taxi anywhere in China requires a bit of patience. Be careful of the (legal) black cabs that have started popping up. Their fair is significantly more expensive. Double taxi rides in Harbin is the standard, not the exception. 

 

The anti-Russian sentiment isn't something to worry about too much. I've had a couple run-ins at bars where drunk guys try to intimidate me and not let me get through a crowd. But other than that I've never had any trouble. On the whole, I would actually consider it a blessing. In addition to Harbin having "the most standard" Mandarin in all of China, people assume you're Russian so they don't bother trying to practice English with you. I had an older guy come up to me and ask if I was Russian. After I said i was American, his face lit up and he started praising America and insulting Russia.

 

About the "standard accent" be virtually incomprehensible to you, I know exactly what you're saying. People tend to romanticize about Harbin being the Camelot of Chinese language study. While the local language on average has the most standard Mandarin, I found a lot of people to not speak clearly by not ever closing their lips when they talk. You combine that with a lot of verbs that are two syllables in your textbook being truncated to one syllable and some erhua, it makes it hard to follow along sometimes. However, you really are in the best place. Just focus on that and make the most of it.

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MotZu, I've never met Chinese people who dislike Russians. What's part of Harbin do u live? Out of curiosity. Your messages sound strange. Most of my friends are Russians and they also don't have any problems.

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Interesting how the views on Russians and standard Mandarin vary.  I think using taxi drivers as an exemplar of any cultural trait (including accent) is probably risky.  If you used that as a guide in the US, you would probably think we all speak with Nigerian or Slavic accents.   I know that the university professors in China tend to have close ties to Russia, and many departments started out as projects by Russian specialists.  On the street, it may be a different matter... you find all kinds of crazy on the streets and in the bars.  If that's your thing, you will probably have some problems figuring out the accent (though some of the problems may be content)

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I went to Harbin for the weekend in a few months ago, I had only been learning Chinese a few weeks so was not able to tell people I was not Russian. This explains so much, I left Harbin thinking it was really expensive! 

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I just got absolutely berated by an old guy on Zhongyang Dajie screaming at me to go back to Russia. I was afraid any broken Chinese attempt I made to explain I wasn't Russian would upset him so I just tried to walk away saying sorry sorry sorry over and over but he followed me just screaming at me. Eventually a random stood between us and motioned me to keep walking then started having a go at the old guy.

 

Also you see some messed up shit here, coming home from my Zhongyang Dajie encounter I walked down the backstreet where the childrens hospital is, I heard a man screaming and crying then I saw a guy riding one of those 3 wheel push bikes with the tray on the back down the middle of the road towards me, then I noticed he was covered in blood, then I noticed what looked like a dead child about 4-5 years old on the back. :( The screams coming from this man were so sad :(

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@emmanuel your friends either don't speak enough Chinese to know when people are talking about them behind their back, or they're a bunch of uni kids that just hang around with other uni kids so as we say in English "Can't see the forest for the trees". Look through the other replies in this thread and you'll see it's not just me that has these run ins, a lot of people do. Ask any western English teacher in town and I bet you they have at least one story about it. And I guarantee you I get cheaper prices at nearly all shops in town that don't have a set price menu on display than your friends do whether they're aware of it or not. Learning to tell people I'm not Russian in Chinese has so far proven to be one of the most useful phrases I have learned. Teachers at my school were joking around about making up tshirts that said I'm not Russian in Chinese but no one ended up doing it because they were all scared of pissing off a group of Russians if they came accross one that could read Chinese. We're not exactly talking about a well kept secret, the tensions is extremely obvious. Even the wikitravel and tripadvisor sites mention the chinese-russian tension here and to keep it in mind that if you're white in Harbin until you can speak Chinese you're automatically assumed Russian

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These are all new stories to me.  I just haven't seen the problems with Russia that others seem to see.  And it's not that I haven't spent enough time in Harbin; I've lived in the city for the past four years for 1-2 months at a time.  I don't think it is an expensive city either ... certainly not in the sense of Shanghai and Beijing by any means.  It more or less the same as most 2nd or 3rd tier cities in prices.  And I think the benefits of clean air, lots of activities, and standard Mandarin all outweigh other perceived or real problems.

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@MotZu may be you don't speak enough Chinese to understand the meaning? Most of my friends have been studying Chinese for 3 years in China and passed HSK 6. They have been living in Harbin for 2 years.

"making up tshirts that said I'm not Russian in Chinese" :lol:  Make it up. Who cares?

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studychinese

I just got back to China from the DPRK. I haven't been able to reply while I was still there.

As for anti Russian sentiment in Harbin, I am sure it exists. I may be mistaken (but probably not) that those people on the street calling me Roskiye were not friendly. Are Russians being lynched? No. Is there some sort of problem between the locals and Russians? I think that is obvious.

As for the accent of people in Harbin it isn't just their erhua that is the the problem but the fact that many people mumble and slur their speech. I understand news announcers Erhua. I do not understand what locals say. For example a waitress in a restaurant and so on. It depends on the person however. There were people that spoke very clearly. They seem to be in the minority.

I would be very surprised if people here were able to comprehend the putonghua of average Harbin people vs average Shanghai people.

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I can hazard a guess, based on some comments made to me by Russian students living in Harbin.  They claim that because 黑龙剑 borders on Russia, many Siberian criminals evade Russian police by forging documents and staying in Harbin.  Additionally, rich parents trying to keep their sons out of compulsory Russian military service will send them to school (this could be anything, including private language study) just to keep them out of the military (Harbin or Chechnya, which do you want?).  These are just stories but they make sense, and would indicate that there is both rough trade and spoiled brats amongst the Russian expat population in Harbin.

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I would say James is correct. Most the Chinese people that I speak to about the problem have an opinion that Vladivostok is just the dumping ground for most Russian criminals and gangsters, therefore being in such close proximity to Harbin they just make the assumption most the Russians here are from there and therefor guilty by association and not given a chance. I've spoken to many chinese about it and they all tell me a similar story about most Russian girls being sluts and most Russian guys starting fights and problems for local business. Whether it's true or not this is a very common perception here, and to be honest the few Russian guys in town I know pretty much fit the stereo type, they are gang associated and they do cause trouble, but while I don't judge an entire nation based on the 2-3 of them I know, a lot of chinese people (mainly the older generations) do and will. Also look into the history of Harbin, the real history not the one you'll find on websites about history. Get out and talk to the older generations here and they'll all tell you the Russian mob once pretty much ran this city even when it was under chinese rule, that is still stuck in the minds of the older people. The chinese youth have a completely different upbringing and mindset, the uni kids probably don't have the anti-russian mindset, I don't really know any young uni kids though to ask them.

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Well, I've never been to Harbin but many of the Russians in my city are gigantic jerks.  They get screaming drunk and start incidents.  Multiply this by thousands of Russians (we only have a few) and I can understand why the local population might not care for them.  

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I've been here almost 2.5 months so let me chip in my 2cents in reply to the initial post (i've copy pasted some relevant bits prefaced by "->" to respond point by point to).

 

->I might be wrong but Harbin strikes me as a relatively poor part of China.

 

Harbin isn't shanghai or beijing, or guangzhou for that matter, but it is certainly not at the bottom end of the wealth spectrum. this is coming from someone who has travelled to places like xinjiang, gansu, hunan and anhui, and trust me, they are in far worse shape. the city's population is not 4mio but north of 10mio. the city is really large, so i cannot speak for all of it. the district i am currently living in (daoli) is very modern. i brought all sorts of toiletries from home (like side-sealed facial puffs, hand sanitizer and wet wipes) thinking they would not be available anywhere in Harbin, but a visit to the Watsons store below a Walmart uncovered the fallacy. there is another district (nangang, the most densely populated) which has huge (modern) shopping centres, a kickass bookstore (book hangar rather, as it is massive) and a nice botanical garden. honestly, i think it's a 'value for money' city that offers modern amenities without the big city price tags.

 

-> Second impression. People in Harbin hate me. More specifically they hate Russians and I supposedly have a Russian look.

 

I am Asian so have not encountered this problem. However, my fellow students are Caucasians and so far as i know, they have not had any mishaps related to being mistaken for being Russian. If anything, they garner more praise from the locals (who just seem to assume i should speak better chinese because of the way i look) for opening the conversation or replying in putonghua :)

 

-> Third impression. The 'standard accent' of Harbin is virtually incomprehensible to me. I went from understanding 99% of things said to me in Shanghai to about 60% here. It's like the Beijing accent on steroids. Almost every word is inflected with the r sound that I need to analyse to find the regular uninflected pronunciation.

 

i do agree that it's hard to understand some locals, who either mumble, swallow their words or liberally add 'r' to every noun. conversely, i have encountered others on the street (including night market vendors) who speak very clear and standard putonghua. i go to gym classes here and am incredibly impressed with the instructors' excellent diction in the face of having to simultaneously project their voices and demonstrate the exercise moves. needless to say, with these standards, my chinese teachers could probably all work at cctv as newscasters (incidentally, i was told that something like 60% of national newscasters hail from harbin. it would be great if anyone could confirm the exact number).

 

travelling thru china, i've come to realise that one of the biggest challenges of learning the language is being able to understand putonghua (in all its incarnations) reasonably well. as much as i would love for the 老百姓 to speak classroom putonghua, it is a case of muhammad having to go the mountain...

 

-> Additional: I had a funny experience in the taxi. The driver was picking up other people while I was in the taxi.

 

Yes, I have experienced this too, and agree it is absolutely annoying. some drivers also smoke while on the job. i think there is either a huge shortage of taxis in harbin or the fares have not been raised in a long time. i also concur that traffic and the driving are a mother. it is worse in shanghai though, where i felt like retching after coming out of a would-be rally driver's cab. hope this helps!

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I think there is either a huge shortage of taxis in Harbin or the fares have not been raised in a long time.

If the Harbin situation is anything like the Beijing one, it's both, with the shortage partly caused by the low fares. Imo prices should just rise, expensive taxis for people who can afford it is still better than cheap taxis for almost nobody at all.

I wonder if the night market vendors and gym instructors are native Harbiners?

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@schen24

 

First, thanks for your feedback. Not being there in Harbin yet (I plan to come sometime in the next year) it's always nice to hear another viewpoint.

 

> my chinese teachers could probably all work at cctv as newscasters

 

Cool.  This may be a bit OT, but...do I understand you right, that you're taking Chinese classes/lessons in Harbin? If so, may I ask where you're studying? I admit it...I'm becoming obsessive/compulsive about this...but I really want to find a Chinese teacher who is very, very standard. :-)  So any time someone compliments their Chinese teacher, I like to find out where they're taking classes or lessons.

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abcdefg
If so, may I ask where you're studying? I admit it...I'm becoming obsessive/compulsive about this...but I really want to find a Chinese teacher who is very, very standard. :-)  So any time someone compliments their Chinese teacher, I like to find out where they're taking classes or lessons.

 

@James3 -- I understand your concern. I went through a brief phase like that, before I realized it hardly mattered. The thing that's most important, in my opinion, is to find out the policy of different schools regarding changing teachers once you try one out.

 

In every school I have attended, some teachers speak better than others and some also teach better than others. Cannot always tell in advance or even with first glance. Furthermore, some teachers are just a better "personality fit" and I enjoy working with them more than their equally capable colleagues.

 

Even if you get a hundred recommendations for Teacher Wang as being great, you schedules may not fit and you will be assigned Teacher Lee instead. Cannot base your educational decisions on variables like that.

 

Suggest relaxing about this "advance purchase" quest and just signing up somewhere that allows you to change teachers if you need to or want to. You run the risk of never actually pulling the trigger on this project if you get too long-distance picky.

 

Locate a city that's "pretty good" and a school that's "pretty good" and just go for it. Make subsequent adjustments as needed on the fly. "Failure to launch" can and does occur if you demand that all the stars align just perfectly beforehand.

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@James3, yes i am taking lessons in Harbin at a private school called 1to1 Mandarin Workshop. i am planning to post a review of my study experience there soon. in brief, i'm very satisfied with the teaching and perhaps more importantly, the 'customer service' there. i think @abcdefg is spot on about going with the best option, instead of waiting for a 100% that may never materialize. i had no problems voicing my thoughts (which were heard and responded to quickly) while i was there.

 

re standard mandarin, i was given to understand that there is a speaking test in china for people wanting to pursue certain professions which require accurate diction, such as newscasting, teaching, tour guiding etc. perhaps even gym instruction? lol. to be a newscaster, you need to pass with the highest grade; for a teacher, 2nd highest is the minimum.

 

my teachers are all native harbinites, so my reasoning is that if they tested in the city that produces the most newscasters, standards should be pretty high. moreover, they pronounce the words exactly as my talking pleco dictionary pronounces them :)

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